Theater of musical optics

The first hint that Dagashi-Kashi might just suck is in the garb.

The self-described “poison metal” quintet from Japan have reclaimed KISS’ inspiration from kabuki theater by donning on face make-up and wearing kimonos. If the music were any good, they wouldn’t need to hide behind costumes, would they?

Then there’s lead singer Merakuden’s shrill vocal style — “out of tune” barely begins to describe it.

And what the hell kind of description is “poison metal” anyway? Has anyone informed Bret Michaels?

While you’re ears may indeed tell you all the necessary elements of “suck” are there, Dagashi-Kashi really doesn’t. In fact, they’re actually quite good.

The band’s second album, Jingai no Heya, is entertaining at the least, fascinating at the most.

Dagashi-Kashi’s “poison metal” has a strong Halloween aspect to it, a garage rock meets The Munsters feel that sounds better in execution than as idea.

Guitarists Kaikoo Terushige and Kukimoto Takehime love their muted strings. Such tracks as “Jingai no Heya”, “Jootei Tanjoo” and “Kirikimazu” could almost be mistaken for surf rock if only it didn’t sound so sinister.

Although Merakuden can barely mind a standard eight-note scale, she at least sounds like she’s throwing her heart into her performance.

On the album’s title track, she manages to sound normal during the verses, but when the chorus hits, it’s total abandon. She sounds as psychotic as the double-time guitars on “Nukegara no Aijoo”, and on “Nayuta no Dooketsu”, her singing sounds like how a nervous breakdown feels.

Despite the costumed gimmickry and off-kilter vocals, Jingai no Heya has some seriously catchy material. “Taiyoo Hakai Kamisetsu” is the closest thing Merakuden gets to a clear melody, and “Geki Aishimasefu” deserves a cover by Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. (Hell, even Chiba Yusuke couldn’t fuck that song up.)

The band isn’t afraid of a little humor either. “Kirikizamu”, which means “to chop up”, is indeed split over the first 11 tracks of the album.

A lot of bands attempt to mix theatrics and music, but Dagashi-Kashi have actually got the latter down tight to make the former a nice touch.